Before I begin this post, let me set up some parameters.
First, I am a fan of the Game of Thrones series on HBO. I’ve not yet read the books (I have the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and have been interrupted more times than I care to remember every time I’ve tried to start it), but I’ve watched, and am currently watching, the episodes. So if you look at my title and consider this paragraph, you may see where I’m going with this post.
Second, related to this is the warning of spoilers: I’m going to talk about some GoT series-related items, so if you’ve never watched the series and intend to, or if you simply aren’t up to date, then BE WARNED: SPOILERS FOLLOW (although I seriously doubt anybody who cares is ignorant of what has happened as of late, especially in the penultimate episode of the series).
Okay, disclaimers are done.
It’s no secret that the Internet is buzzing with opinion (mostly negative) about this current season of GoT. Everything is a topic and a target: from Tyrion Lannister’s sudden regression from clever political wit and wisdom to dreadful judgment and lack of eloquence, to the battle of Winterfell ending in a manner that left many unsatisfied with the story of the Night King and his White Walker legions, to the showdown at King’s Landing, which culminated in the shocking shift in the character of Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons destined to rule Westeros from the Iron Throne, as she transformed from the just (albeit ruthless at times) leader of an assembled army into a horrific monster whose wrath is channeled through the fire of her dragon and unleashed indiscriminantly upon surrendered soldier and innocent civilian alike as they scattered through the streets in terror.
And while what I’m about to talk about could encompass more than one of the characters involved in the chaos and violence flooding the capital of Westeros, it’s this last example of Daenerys Targaryen that I’d like to settle upon for my thoughts about writing this week: namely, thoughts about making changes to your character’s persona.
When you build a character, you build traits that demand consistency. Even if a character has a complex makeup, that complexity still must remain consistent within that character. Otherwise, you lose that character. You cannot simply change a character’s motivations or methods without reason or logic. To do so makes them an entirely different being, one that the audience feels cheated on. It would be like coming home to a spouse who acts completely different than the person you married; you’d be thrown off, and probably not in a pleasant manner.
This is the problem with Daenerys Targaryen.
Now, let me preface with something here: I don’t necessarily have a problem with Daenerys going mad in the tradition of her father. Truth be told, there’s a part of me that finds that notion rather intriguing. But the writers gave virtually no setup for Daenerys’s change. Yes, Daenerys was the daughter of Aerys Targaryen II, known as “The Mad King” for his instability and cruelty, and yes, there were hues and flashes that alluded to the possiblity that she could conceivably go the way of her father. And yes, though she was compassionate, just, and fair, she could also be ruthless and harsh. But the series gave no serious indications that led the audience to believe that Daenerys could seriously snap and suddenly kill innocents in the middle of a surrendered city. She had a lawful demeanor and characterization, one which remained steadily consistent throughout the majority of the series arc. I understand that there are other issues occuring which may be chafing at her (the beheading of her dear friend and confidante, the simmering tension between her and Jon Snow despite his claims of loyalty to her), but none of these in and of themselves serve as a truly sufficient reason for such a dismantling of her persona, not in a manner proving to be satisfactory to any serious fan of the series. It was said in a video that more pronounced hints should have been placed in AT LEAST ten episodes of the series, and I cannot fully disagree with that. What we have here is not natural, organic growth and change within a character, but instead a racidally forced and unfounded shift that destroys all we knew about the female known as Daenerys Targaryen.
This isn’t the first time we’ve ever seen something like this. Remember Star Wars? Remember Anakin’s change to the dark side? Many people complained that Lucas forced the change abruptly upon him. Yes, we understand that he snapped in Attack of the Clones and slaughtered a colony of Sand People (I still prefer this to Tusken Raiders) for the sake of saving his mother, but this felt like a one-time incident. Nothing else within the series gave us any serious clues that the Dark Side of the Force was exerting an overwhelming pull upon him; the dreams concerning Padme’s death could cause him concern to some degree, but his sudden reversal from Jedi Knight to Sith Apprentice in the manner conveyed by the movie did not receive enough vindication from the scant reasons scattered throughout the movies (I’ve been told that The Clone Wars cartoon series had moments as well, but I’ve seen very little of it, so I’m not qualified to comment on those episodes).
But let’s not stop there. How about that dreadful pile of rubbish referred to as The Last Jedi? Did that person onscreen called Luke Skywalker resemble the young hero we came to know and love during Episodes 4 through 6? Did the character portrayed by Mark Hamill perform the same motivations, attitude, and actions that characterized the farmboy from Tatooine? The answer is an obvious no, to the chagrin of many fans of the Star Wars franchise (including me), and the motivation given in-story for the dramatic shift in personality did nothing to add credibility to Rian Johnson’s abominable creation. Luke, like the Mother of Dragons, was written out of character, solely because the writer demanded it.
Here is a key point that all writers need to remember: It is the characters which drive the plot, and never the other way around. A memorable, three-dimensional character must be established with a personality and traits which define him or her in a solid and reliable way that gives the audience a sense of stability and consistency. Yes, characters can grow and can change, even radically, but that change must be established rationally and organically, not by shoe-horning a sudden change in personality for the sake of a plot device. It is one thing to depict the gradual changes in circumstances that affect one character and eventually turn them into somebody very different; it is quite another to suddenly and unexplicably make a villain out of a hero, or a coward out of a warror, using only a flimsy explanation devoid of logical development. Daenerys Targaryen could have very easily been shaped throughout the series in such a way as to set up a sensible change into “The Mad Queen” (or “The Queen of Ashes” as somebody referred to her) but not in the manner depicted by the current story arc.
I have no idea whether or not this is the intended direction which George R.R. Martin has planned for the Mother of Dragons in his books, but I truly hope that his development is far more consistent and layed out than the arbitrary and capricious shift enabled by Benioff and Weiss.
Okay, that’s a pretty lengthy set of thoughts from me. Feel free to weigh in with your own. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and keep reading!
(Still wish Eddard and Benjen were alive)
See you in the Vein!